Midnight Meat Train promised to be one of the relatively few dark films in the summer marketplace, offering a menacing alternative to light-hearted blockbuster fare. The film is adapted from a Clive Barker tale that our own Scott Weinberg described as "one seriously nasty story." If you've seen the pulse-pounding trailer (which you can check out at Moviefone), you know that Bradley Cooper plays a photographer who catches a mysterious man (Vinnie Jones) doing hideous things to people on subway trains and then hiding the evidence in meat lockers.
I admit that I giggled the first time I heard the title, which sounds too outlandishly gruesome for wide acceptance. It's too easy to assume that it's another tired excursion into torture porn territory, and the MPAA's rating advisory ("Rated R for sequences of strong bloody gruesome violence, grisly images involving nudity, sexual content and language") would seem to support that assumption.
On the other hand, when I saw the trailer again last Friday (in front of Roger Donaldson's excellent The Bank Job), it played very well as a suspense thriller with horror elements. It all depends on the delivery, of course, and that's where director Ryuhei Kitamura enters the picture. Versus, his first Japanese film to hit these shores, excited fans with its wild combination of zombies and yakuza, but his subsequent films (notably Azumi and Godzilla: Final Wars) met with mixed reaction. Still, Kitamura is such a strong visual stylist that pairing him with a good script, if that's the case with Midnight Meat Train, might pay off big time.
An insider reportedly told Shock Til You Drop that Kitamura "was never really thrilled about opening against blockbusters like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" in the first place. Actually, I thought it was good counter-programming, but -- pure speculation until we hear otherwise -- it may be that Lionsgate was experiencing difficulty in securing a sufficient number of screens to make the release worthwhile. Speed Racer opens the week before and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the week after, so that might have squeezed things too tight. Or, it may be that Lionsgate blinked when they reflected further upon their gambit last year with William Friedkin's excellent Bug, which flat-lined it when went up against Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
But where does Midnight Meat Train go now? Lionsgate's schedule looks like this: June 20 -- Religulous, August 22 -- Bangkok Dangerous, September 12 -- Punisher: War Zone, Saw V -- October 24. If they don't push into July, then Midnight Meat Train may have to wait until the year-end holidays before pulling into the station.